Street Beats — dancin’ in the city

One of art’s greatest purposes is to transport the viewer to another time or space. A dance and spoken-word showcase this week intends to do just that. Yet producers promise viewers won’t be transported far — only to the street outside the theater.

Street Beats, a fundraiser for the Gubbio Project of St. Boniface Homeless Shelter, transforms the church’s 300-seat basement theater into an urban scene and leads viewers on a tour of the vibrancy, creativity and humanity that’s easily missed by the casual passer-by.

“We tend to make assumptions about the street and the people on the street and the music of the street,” says Alison Hurwitz, co-director of Street Beats. “Wedevalue the contributions, and we devalue the people.”

But, she says, Street Beats ties art forms together by their humble roots.

Nearly all forms of ballroom dance — salsa, cha-cha, tango, swing and waltz — she explains, originated as street dances. The production, set for only two performances, on Saturday and Sunday, melds classic with modern forms, such as hip-hop, and with spoken slam poetry provided by Youth Speaks.

Hurwitz and co-director Alise Halbert, veterans of the San Francisco dance scene, secured a host of performers for Street Beats, including Valentina, 2001 runner-up on PBS’ “America’s Ballroom Challenge”; Christine Crawford, director of Rare Form Dance Company; Jesus Ortiz, principal of Azucar Dance Company; and Argentine tango ensemble Libertango.

While the production’s focus brings together divergent movement and sound, its purpose is to benefit the Gubbio Project, which allows the homeless people of the Tenderloin to sleep in the pews of St. Boniface Church during the day, use the church’s restrooms and get outreach help. According to executive director John Weeks, it serves 80 to 200 people a day with an annual budget of about $140,000.

“We really make it stretch,” Weeks says.

Tying the production to its purpose is the location: St. Boniface’s basement theater is a grand space that few know about, Halbert says.

“We thought this space and the church are so powerful, we wanted people to have that experience,” she says.

Ultimately, producers say they hope the audience connects with a part of the world that will likely produce the high art of the future.

“It’s trying to say, yes, this is reality; yes, you are immersed in it; and yes, it is beautiful,” Hurwitz says.

Street Beats

Where: St. Boniface Church Theater, 133 Golden Gate Avenue, San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $25 general; $100 for VIP cocktail party (June 16)

Contact: (415) 820-3979 or http://sbnc.wordpress.com

Edie Sellers is a writer and talk-show host and can be heard on KGO radio. Contact her at ediesellers2@yahoo.com

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